JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —
Soon after arriving to a new aircraft maintenance squadron, fresh technical training graduates are tasked with the most important direction of their young careers. ‘We need to go to work, so go grab the keys to the airplane.’ Some time later, an exasperated Airman returns to a shop rolling with laughter, waiting to let them in on one of oldest jokes on the flight line.
Although Air Force assets do not require a “key” to start, they do rely on powered and non-powered ground support provided by the Aerospace Ground Equipment, or AGE, shop at the beginning and end of every sortie.
One of the most important AGE shops in the Air Force is at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph within the 12th Maintenance Group, or MXG, directly supporting the student and instructor pilots of the 12th Flying Training Wing. Without dedicated maintenance on the equipment providing vital electricity, hydraulic pressure and air pressure to the T-6, T-38, and T-1 trainers, the 12th FTW could not fulfil its mission as the “Source of America’s Airpower.”
“Day to day, we fully maintain over 700 pieces of equipment, supporting the T-38, T-6, and T-1 aircraft,” said Mark Cogar, AGE mechanic and support office manager. “We have a 96 percent in-commission rate on a regular basis throughout the year.”
Previously, this responsibility was met by 50 active duty personnel, but today a team of 25 Department of Defense civilians ensures the equipment is ready to support daily 12th FTW training sorties.
“In my opinion, the equipment is maintained very well, the mechanics do a great job at what they do,” Cogar said.
In addition to direct support at JBSA-Randolph, the 12th MXG AGE shop also maintains equipment at five separate, forward operating bases in South Texas and the Gulf Coast. A small pool of AGE is on standby in Austin, Victoria, Fort Hood and Houston, Texas as well as Lake Charles, Louisiana, to enable sortie production from more austere locations.
An interesting partnership exists at Ellington Field in Houston, where the U.S. Air Force shares the ramp with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s, or NASA, fleet of T-38 aircraft.
The 12th MXG’s AGE personnel also support the transit alert program, tasked with assisting any aircraft on the ramp passing through the area or on temporary assignment to the base. Notables include transient fighter aircraft, NASA science and transport missions and recently Pavehawk helicopters full of Air Force pararescuemen flying in support of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
The AGE shop has even shared hangar space with foreign partners to enable the coalition training mission.
“Singapore did some training here for months, some of their pilot training here with Apache helicopters, and we accommodated them in Hangar 16 for a while,” said Joe Holley, powered support equipment work leader.
The 12th MXG AGE shop is one of the most important units on the base, standing in support of every other activity performed on the T-6, T-38, and T-1 flight lines.
“We’re spread out, east, west, south ramp, all the hangars are full of equipment, just stuff everywhere that we maintain,” Holley said.
Only 25 AGE maintainers, civilian employees with a wealth of prior military maintenance experience, ensure every sortie undertaken has the ground support it needs to launch, accomplish the mission and return safely to JBSA-Randolph.
Although Air Force aircraft do not require “keys” to start up, when you look up and see a 12th FTW aircraft in the skies of South Texas, there is a guarantee that the hard-working personnel of JBSA-Randolph’s 12th MXG put it there.